Thoughts on Lo-fi Photography

Lo-fi photography: expired film, toy cameras, plastic lenses, Holgas, Dianas, Lomos. The internet is riddled with lo-fi photography, and like all photography there is good and bad. My major issue with lo-fi photography is that so many people seem to be careless in taking pictures, relying on the vignetting, over-saturation, light leaks, and all the other imperfections, for all the interest in their photos. But in the same way that fashionable clothes won’t mask body odor and great presentation doesn’t make food taste any better, so low fidelity doesn’t make a photo good. Not all lo-fi photographers throw all photographic techniques to the wind. There are some very talented photographers who taken very well planned and executed photos, and happen to take them with a toy camera.

I don’t dislike lo-fi photography, I have used pinholes, disposable cameras, expired film, and I even have a Diana adapter for my EOS system. What I don’t like are boring pictures that are praised because of fortuitous imperfections. You will read in the writings of many photographers how annoying it is to hear “what a lucky shot!” or similar expressions giving the camera or pure chance the credit for a good photo. But when the whole basis for the photo is accidental imperfections, is there any talent or skill involved? It may just be chance or the camera that deserve the credit. And the reasons people give for choosing to use one aren’t that solid. I’ve heard many say that they like the effects that are just “too hard to mimic in Photoshop”.

Having interesting imperfections is no reason to disregard composition or lighting or any other principle of photography. The same can be said for ‘high’ fidelity photography. Suppose you take a picture with your nice large format SLR, have a really dramatic depth of field, have it nicely lit, but don’t have anything interesting in the photo. You’ve got the same problem. It might be visually pleasing but may not necessarily have any substance. A good photography should be pleasing to look at but should also have some story or interest involved. I think i feel especially strong about this because of the way I view film. I’ve always thought of it as something special and delicate. Something to be handled gently and exposed carefully. I always feel more comfortable when a roll is securely loaded into a strong, hefty camera. Every time I’ve accidentally taken a shot while my lens cap was on I’ve mourned the loss of that frame. Especially with large format when each frame is so much larger and there are only twelve on a roll. Maybe if my budget for processing was higher I’d feel differently…

Lo-fi photography isn’t just for film, but now lo-fi digital photography is gaining in popularity. Just take a look at Apple’s app store and count how many toy camera apps there are. Then there are the low mega-pixel tiny digital cameras that you can find on sites like Photojojo. When I first saw them I was hooked, they are so little and take such neat photos. Then I realized that I’ve already got a lo-fi digital camera with a tiny 3mp sensor, it’s on my cheap phone! While I’d love to get a little Harinezumi 2+++, I can’t reason spending nearly $200 when I’ve already got a camera that is just as low of quality.

Lo-fi photography has its place. If it will help re-introduce film, that’s great. It is a great way to demonstrate that it isn’t the quality of the camera that matters but how it’s taken. But it should also be a cheap medium for photography, not just in quality, but in price. I bought my Yashica-D for about $35 dollars on eBay; it’s a ‘vintage’ camera that takes 120 film, isn’t plastic, and can turn out beautiful photos. I can’t imagine paying more for a plastic camera that I can’t control. But that’s just me… (well, not just me)

Here are some photographers that do a great job with their toy-cameras:
fiftyfootshadows
.skylar
Sebastian //Becker

(I’d list ones that I feel don’t do a great job but that would just be rude)

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One thought on “Thoughts on Lo-fi Photography

  1. G,
    I agree with your low-fi theories. It reminds me of a movie I saw where they gave a bunch of kids cheap cameras in the slums of India and the results where some amazing photography showcased in an Art show in NYC. on the other spectrum I have seen some people with expensive DSLR’s that take crappy photos.
    peace,
    Phil

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